To celebrate International Art Museum Day, I visited one of those galleries in the D.C. region that is not usually free: the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The last time I was there was for rehearsals of the Viva Vivaldi! All Girls orchestra, back in 1995. That was a powerful reminder of female prowess, and this was no different.
A centerpiece of the collection is a self-portrait by Frida Kahlo dedicated to Leon Trotsky (1937). (I like Diego Rivera far too much to comment further on this dedication.)
The picture itself is wonderful. It bears Kahlo’s typical proud style: the perfect symmetry of her figure poised between the open curtains, her beautiful peach skirt lying almost triangular – without a wrinkle – and the long, flowing shawl draped elegantly over her shoulders.
But then there are the eyebrows. Why, Frida? Perhaps they draw attention to the intense gaze in her eyes. Perhaps, like Coco Chanel, Kahlo knew she needed a look. As Mademoiselle Chanel put it in a 1990 interview with Douglas Kirkland, “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.”
There could also be something more meaningful in Frida Kahlo’s signature brow line. Maybe she wants us to remember, to have to remember, that art is not pretty. The beauty that lives in art is borne of suffering, death, destruction. Without those eyebrows, perhaps we could accidentally believe that this is a “nice” picture by a pretty girl. Instead, we must remember that this powerful piece only draws us in with the perfection of the dress and the impeccable posture of its subject to contrast those sharply with the intense fire that rages in her eyes.